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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 11, 2012
THE MODERATOR: To recap the win at Central Michigan and look forward to the game against Notre Dame, head coach Mark Dantonio.
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, being 9/11 today, I'd like to speak about that real quickly. I think that's a time we've all remembered throughout our entire lives and we'll never forget that. We'll keep that in our players' minds today as we go through practice. I think it's a time of reflection for all of us.
I certainly remember where I was at and I'm sure everybody else does. We'll move from there.
CMU game, I thought we did some good things. I thought we took a step forward. I was impressed by the way our players came to play. Very workmanlike type attitude. Brought enthusiasm with us.
As we went, did some good things, cut down on our penalties, got the ball to our wide receivers I thought more. I thought Maxwell played very efficiently throughout the game. There was a stiff wind out there as well. Ran the ball effectively, a little bit more by committee maybe.
Then obviously our defense played very well again, really limiting them to zero points with the exception of that last play.
Came home and looking to continue to get better and focus on every task at hand, try to stay in the present as we move forward.
The Notre Dame game to me is a game built on tradition. Very humbled to be a part of that game. It's a game that I think has sort of stood the test of time at Michigan State, all the way back to '66 and probably even before. Very excited about being a part of that, having it in Spartan Stadium again this next Saturday night should be a very interactive atmosphere for our fans and for our players alike.
When you look at Notre Dame, I think first of all you look at who they are as people, their personnel, excellent personnel. Defensive side of the ball, big, physical up front, very active linebackers. Obviously No.5 Te'o is an outstanding player, makes it all work for them.
Their secondary, a little bit retooled because they lost one guy, but they're playing with a true freshman. Good players, tackle very well, good ball skills. I think they're structurally very sound. They play with great technique.
You look at them offensively, a lot of things are geared around their tight end, Eifert, some of their other skill players. They'll get Cierre Wood back. Theo Riddick is a guy that has been around for a long time, played very well. Physical offensive line. Quarterback freshman, exciting player.
As always, Notre Dame is going to be a good football team. They're going to be a tremendous challenge for us. We'll continue to focus on what has allowed us to win.
With that I'll take some questions.
Q. How will you evaluate Blake and Jack this week in practice?
COACH DANTONIO: We have to see where Blake is at as we get into this. We'll do that early in the week. We'll sort of take it from there.
But the thing, Skyler Burkland is back full‑time. He throws another dimension into who we play on our offensive line because he has been a starter here as well. That's a positive thing for us as well.
We can move some different people around. The guys who started, we have eight guys that have started for us in the last two years. We've got some different ways we can look at that.
Q. How has Maxwell's learning behind Cousins in those first two games, how have those got him ready for the stakes on Saturday night?
COACH DANTONIO: When you look at the first game, there was great atmosphere, a lot of media coverage, national stage. That was a big positive for him to go through that. Again, I thought even though statistically he had a couple of interceptions, I thought he was resilient, very calm and composed throughout the game.
I think he did the exact same thing on Saturday. He threw the ball very effectively, 273 yards, two TDs. I think he's just taken the necessary steps to become who he is.
But he's right on track to be a tremendous quarterback here. Obviously he needs to have time. He's going to have big competition this weekend, great environment, all the things you want here when you're looking to play quarterback at an institution. This would be one of those places.
So I think the steps that he needs to take in forming the foundation of who he is. He's been resilient, composed, an extremely hard worker, tough, got a great arm. He's got all the intangibles that you want.
Q. Your 10‑1 record in the last two years, in a series like this, back to the Perles years, have been close and decided in the fourth quarter. Is that just a number or do you think that gives your players any kind of an edge because they've been there, done that?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's who we are right now. I've talked about this before. The first thing we had to do when we came here in '07 is win the close games. We lost a lot of close ones in '07, won some close ones in '08. Then we had to go win away from home and we did that last year.
Those two ingredients, along with playing well at home, beating the teams that we're supposed to beat, really have added to the significance of why we won 11 games the last two years.
But we're winning close games and that gives our guys confidence. The quarterback, he's yet to do it. But Kirk did it. The rest of our football team has done it.
Again, we need to find out who we are as we move forward in terms of who is this team, how we're going to play, et cetera, et cetera, as we go down the line. I have a good feel about the chemistry of our team, the toughness of our team, the way we go about our business.
Q. You mentioned that you saw Lawrence Thomas' long‑range future being on defense. Can you comment on why you see him on that side of the ball?
COACH DANTONIO: He goes between 280 and 300. Depends on how he's eating.
I think long‑term, he was a tremendous defensive player in high school. He was also an outstanding offensive player as well. But because of his injuries, because of the depth we have at defensive end right now, he's not been able to get on the field as regularly as we'd want him to.
So just like we did with Tony Lippett last year, we're going to move him over a little bit, play some offensive positions. He played 15 plays last week. I think he's got a lot of skills. So I just think we need to play guys, get them on the field, get them game experience.
Where they play in the end as their career unfolds is really how they fit into the scheme of things. He could play in defense on Saturday, he could play in offense on Saturday. I want to make sure we're taking advantage of our players' skills.
Q. Looking back to the 2010 win over Notre Dame, how important do you think that was in springboarding your current success?
COACH DANTONIO: Seems like a long time ago right now, to be honest with you. I thought it was a close game. We won it at the end obviously. It was a big win, exciting game.
When you look back at it, I think it sort of set the tone maybe a little bit for our season. Although I think after that game, the Wisconsin game that year really sort of set the tone.
But it was certainly a big win. They all are big wins. When you play Notre Dame, it's a great rivalry. I respect that rivalry. As I've learned more and more and more. I mean, I think it was Notre Dame that really got us in the Big Ten Conference. You appreciate that, respect that, respect the history of this game. Again, humbled to be a part of it.
Q. Adams and Dennard playing like they are, can you put into words what that does for your defense, what it allows you to do defensively?
COACH DANTONIO: We put those guys on an island at times. Ability to play, to measure up, to win at that position gives you opportunities to get people more involved in stopping the run. I think that's what ends up happening.
It's sort of a domino theory. If you have guys, you're playing a two shell, you're over top of everybody, your safeties aren't down as much, it's going to take away from your run fits a little bit from your front seven.
But you have to go back and forth on this. You can't go all one way. You have to be able to play cat and mouse. There's no question that anybody who has great corners have the ability to stop the pass in a lot of ways. Notre Dame, they're going to take it deep a lot, throw it up to No.80. That's what they do.
We've got to be able to defend the ball in the deep part of the field, handle all the loose plays. The quarterback is going to get loose, move around in the pocket. We have to be able to handle the loose‑ended plays in the deep end of the field, stop the quarterback.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: In two games I think they're playing very well. I don't know that anybody's had much yardage against us thus far. But I think they're playing very well.
Q. Connor Cook, did you say anything to him after the game?
COACH DANTONIO: Go up and say anything to him? No, that wasn't the right time. I use the 24‑hour rule.
I'm sure he was disappointed. Credit him. Prior to that, I thought he played very well. You can't throw late in the flat behind a guy. Everybody's learning at a rate out there. So he got some great reps out there, probably 25 reps, game experience, which was tremendous for him. I thought he played well. Thought he made good decisions.
But the one that comes back to haunt you, that's part of the game, too. I understand that.
Q. A little bit away from football. It was a couple years ago after that game where you had your health problems. I'm wondering how much that has changed you, if at all, in the last couple years? Do you reflect much if that has changed your approach?
COACH DANTONIO: I don't think you ever forget those times, so you deal with that. You learn from it. I feel good. I feel great. I don't really worry about my health. I'm good.
I don't know if that answered your question, but what do you expect (laughter)?
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: You know, I'm going to put a higher priority on staying rested and exercising rather than wearing myself too far down on the other end. Try and stay happy, smile.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we've been together for a long time, our staff. At that point in time I was out for two weeks after that. First of all, I think it added to everybody's I don't know whether it's résumé or what they did, because they did it without me planning anything or anything like that, which we do. I don't power our coaches.
I think for me personally, that was the time, as I sat back and watched particularly the Wisconsin game, I've said this before, I knew we had a program in place. I knew it wasn't dependent on one person being there, one person not being here. Whether it was a coordinator, the head coach, or the quarterback, we were going to be able to move through things and still be able to deliver in big‑time situations like the Wisconsin game.
That's what I gained from it. A little bit more going back to Matt's question, I guess, more recognizing that I don't have to be in there all the time. I can do what I have to do, just like everybody can.
Every one of our coaches have an opportunity to work out and stay refreshed. Sometimes that's the key to winning, stay fresh. If you can stay fresh, not get worn down, worn down physically and mentally, you have a better chance of being successful. That's what we try to do here.
Q. I'm going to make your day and change the subject.
COACH DANTONIO: Good.
Q. Night games used to be few and far between around here. Now they're becoming more common. Three this year. I'm wondering if you would favor more night games in the future? If you think your team and your stadium has more energy at night than the afternoon?
COACH DANTONIO: Spartan night games have always been really unique and exciting here. I think if you make it a commonplace thing, maybe a little bit of that shine wears off a little bit.
We have yet to play a noon game. Just playing accordingly, adjust and play accordingly. I do think with our new video boards, the environment that's created by the game itself, by who we're playing, by the night and everything else that goes along with it, it's an exciting atmosphere.
For our players, you sort of step back, it's a much bigger scale, but you step back and play at night, it's a little bit more like high school and I think it's exciting for them. Even practices at night get a little bit more exciting because it's not the norm.
If you play every single week, it makes it a long day, because you're sitting around waiting. You're going stir crazy a little bit. But we address it. We deal with it.
Q. Do you notice a difference in recruiting with all these big marquee games you've played lately, not necessarily with kids you host?
COACH DANTONIO: We notice a difference with recruiting. The reality of recruiting right now, it's so accelerated, your committed guys, we have I think 13 guys committed, so our list of the guys we're actually recruiting is quite pared down, as it is with most schools. You're concentrating more on juniors. We have a lot of guys here, a lot will be juniors. Should be an exciting atmosphere. We'll have some of our committed guys here obviously.
I do feel that. I see that. We've got a lot of people that have a lot of interest from all over the country about Michigan State right now.
Q. Now that Burbridge and King have seen the field, what are you looking for from them in practice this week?
COACH DANTONIO: They need to continue to come in terms of learning the system. Just like everything else, if we sort of teach them one aspect and they're able to take that to one game, the next game we try to build on that, build on that foundation, I think we can continue to play more and more.
The thing about our wide receivers that I think everyone has to recognize is that we're young, relatively inexperienced, and so we got to play them to find out who is going to rise to the top, who are going to be the guys.
We have to intermix guys, play quite a variety of people. I thought we did that this last week. The score indicated we would do it as we got into the fourth quarter. I felt that's something we needed to do going into the game. We played six, seven throughout the game, then we played two more in the fourth quarter.
We have eight guys. I said before I think the talent level is very, very good. But the experience level, you know, that's something you can't change. They're going to be experienced or not based on how many games they've played, environments like this next one we're going to see.
I think it's exciting for them, be challenging for them, but they're good players, all of those guys are.
Q. You threw 28 times in the first half against Central. How much about that was trying to develop a little bit more rhythm for Maxwell and the receivers heading into this Notre Dame game?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I felt like the premise needed to be on Maxwell this past weekend. I wanted him to throw for 300 yards. I wanted to get our wide receivers involved. I thought that was important. We can't make it just on one guy running the football over and over and over. We have to be two‑dimensional.
That's what we'll be here. We want to have opportunities for other guys to make plays. I thought it was important to get in the flow of that a little bit. I thought we tried to do that. When we had to pound it in there, that's what we did. But we tried to do that some, especially early in the game.
Q. Bell carried the ball 44 times in week one. Against Central, he took a lesser workload. Are you worried with a Big Ten schedule, Notre Dame, of how often he may have to carry the ball for you guys?
COACH DANTONIO: No. He's proved that he can touch it 50 times and still make the next game. I'm not worried about that. I thought Larry Caper played well. Nick Hill shows flashes. Jeremy Langford got in. Fourth tailback, very skilled. But plays wideout as well.
I think Le'Veon, as I've said many times, he's a very good football player, sort of a complete football player in the fact he can run down there, be on the kickoff team, be in the kick return team, return punts, he's a great blocker. He's a physical guy and can withstand that physical type of environment he's going to have to go through.
I don't worry about that.
Q. When do you remember crossing paths with Brian Kelly the first time and how would you describe your relationship now?
COACH DANTONIO: I never crossed paths with him really until walking out there the game of 2010. My relationship, I don't know him that well, but I respect him as a football coach, think he's done a tremendous job.
He came after I was at Cincinnati, then obviously we didn't compete there, and here, so... How would you characterize it (laughter)?
Q. All coaches know each other one way or another.
COACH DANTONIO: A little bit, yeah. Little bit. It's really not a great story. There's no story. I've never really come face‑to‑face, had a conversation with Coach Kelly just he and I, or for that matter with any coaches. Just hasn't happened.
Q. When you saw all the scores of the other Big Ten games after yours, did it surprise you some of the outcomes? I know injuries were involved. But talk about your reaction.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, college football today is extremely competitive. All you got to do is look around the country. You can look down south, you can look at the Oklahoma/UTEP game the week before. It's how you play on every given Saturday, Friday, Thursday, Tuesday, Wednesday. I think we're only not playing on Monday and Sunday.
I think it's about matchups. I think it's about preparation. I think it's about how every football team comes into every game. Are they looking forward, past that football team. There's so many different factors.
As I said I guess last week to our football team, there's so many different moving parts in a football game. Any one can really affect the outcome of the game.
I worry about Michigan State. I worry about the Spartans, what we do, focus on the task at hand, live in the present. When I look around, might raise an eyebrow or something like that. But I also know how competitive and tough it is to win away. All the different things that you deal with. So I think the Big Ten Conference is a tremendous conference and it will continue to be so.
I guess I would say last year we lost to Notre Dame at Notre Dame and people sort of wrote us off. We responded and ended up winning 11 games and beat a great Georgia team in the bowl game.
A lot of things can happen. It's very early in the season right now. I'm sure all these football teams are going to rebound and get themselves squared away in and out of conference. It's just the nature of it.
Q. Mark, you talked about after the game two years ago what you dealt with personally, how it changed some of your approach. How about for your program, how you won the game with the fake field goal, almost a dare‑to‑be‑bold approach, do you think there was an altering or a perception of your program based on how that game ended?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, people tend to make a big deal about one particular play, I would say, which that was a big play. But there were a lot of plays in that football game that were huge, that really offset what they did, they offset what we did. There were a ton of plays. So I just try and look at it as a play.
We've always taken some chances. Hopefully people are entertained. I guess it's showbiz, okay? We were being theatrical.
I don't know if I'm answering that question either. I'm probably getting a little better at this.
I think it was timing. That play was timing. I've said that before. It was the right time for the situation, the right place. I felt that it would work. I felt better than 50% that that would work. I wasn't sure we would be able to make the 49‑yard line field goal with a new kicker, so I figured I would take the pressure on that.
It was a quick decision we had to make. I was prepared to make that decision all week long if that situation came into fold. If we hadn't gotten sacked on third down and five, we would have kicked the field goal. It was all about the way things went. Luckily it worked out.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: We won some close games in 2008 games against Iowa when Adam Decker made a great play, Swenson made a field goal against Wisconsin. We won some close games. It was just coming after the '09 season, it was the first one in '10, then I think we went 8‑0 before we lost.
Our players expect to win. We need to continue to do that. We have enough seasoned players here that can put it on the line at the end of the game, you know, sort of man up a little bit at the end of the game and not melt away. So that's a positive. We need to be able to continue to do that and prove that we can do that as we move in this program. That's got to be one of the standards here.
Going back to the question about in conference, out of conference, there are so many close games that hang at the end of the game, I mean, you have to play well down the stretch. You have to have proof sometimes you can do that. I think you gain confidence when those things happen.
Q. The feeling out there now, it's only been two weeks, but Michigan State is clearly the class of this conference, you're the favorite. Is that something now that you combat a little bit because everyone's talking about that?
COACH DANTONIO: We're two games in. We're two games in. There's 10 games left. We're a long way from being where we can say, This is who we are. We make those assumptions at the end. Not assumptions, but we make those statements at the end in terms of how we end up.
We have need to focus at the task at hand, which is Notre Dame, deal with that. Move forward one game by one game. God willing, we'll be okay. We'll see.
Q. When you took over this program, you paid homage to Michigan State was always successful because of overachieving. Presumably with more high achievers on this team than a long time, is that still the profile of this team?
COACH DANTONIO: It must be, yeah. We must overachieve. There's no question. Starts with me. It's got to move through our entire program. We have to be better than what we were before.
If you come in as a four‑star recruit, really doesn't serve any purpose. We have four‑star recruits that aren't starting for us, we have two stars that are. You have to overachieve and reach higher. If you can't do that, inevitably you're going to fail. That's some of the things we're constantly talking to our football team about, what can we do to get better. We need to be better.
Max Bullough, as hard a worker as he is, there are things he can do to try and get better. It's just the way that we have to be made here. I really feel like that.
But I would be saying that regardless of where I was at. I think that's the way you continue to push yourself forward.
Q. Back to the offensive line quick. You mentioned Burkland is back, good to go. Blake is coming in there. Are you going to continue to rotate them a little bit like we saw last week or is there a point where you have to say, This is going to be our starting unit?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that decision really rests with Coach Staten, Coach Roushar and myself. It really depends how people practice, when they have opportunities in the game, how they perform in the game. Based on their conditioning, based on a lot of different things, who we're playing against, those type of things.
If you think back to last year, we had a left tackle that was in his third game as an offensive lineman, period, Dan France. We had Skyler, redshirt freshman, starting at right tackle. Blake Treadwell, third game as an offensive lineman starting at center. We had two guys that had experience. We were very inexperienced as an offensive line at that point.
Right now we have much more experience, much more depth on the offensive line. That should make a difference for us down the line. So we're hoping to get everybody back, everybody healthy, continue to try to build that thing.
But it can be a tremendous challenge this week because Notre Dame is very, very good up front. Four very good linebackers, three very good down players, and they're active.
Q. Notre Dame has had a lot of good tight ends in the past. Do you feel like maybe you're better suited to cover a guy like Eifert now?
COACH DANTONIO: They put him out as wide receiver as often as they do at tight end. He's flexed out as a wide receiver. They're going to force our defensive backs to play him. So he'll be all over the place. He's sort of like, Where is Waldo? Ever see that cartoon? He's all over. And he's a very good player for them and they get the ball to him.
Q. Would you take a moment and talk about Shilique. Last year almost got in the playing rotation. How do you see his maturation?
COACH DANTONIO: I think Shilique Calhoun is coming. First game he played a little bit like a redshirt freshman. Didn't take advantage of his skills. I thought last game he played much more actively, was much more at ease, much more instinctive. I think he's going to continue to come.
Joel Heath was another guy that got an opportunity to play. It was important to play a redshirt freshman. They've never been in a game. We have Denzel Drone and Jeremy Gainer as well. They've been in games, but those other two guys haven't been in games.
We have to make sure we allow them to mature a little bit and give them opportunities so they're prepared.
Shilique Calhoun can be a very good player here. He has to turn it loose, be instinctive, be who he is, can't play tight.
Q. Going back where you started. You may have addressed this last year. Can you share a little more specific where you were at 8:45 at 9/11.
COACH DANTONIO: I was defensive coordinator at Ohio State.
Q. Were you in a meeting? How do you tell your young girls that people are killing people purposely at that time?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I was in a defensive staff meeting. It was a Tuesday. Getting ready for practice. Going through the different things you do. There was a TV out in the hallway. Graduate assistants were breaking down film out there. They came and got us, told us what was going on. So we were all glued to the set as we saw the first tower in flames, then a plane go into the second tower. Then as we sat there, we watched those towers go down.
I'm sure like most people, it was unbelievable. I remember driving home in rush hour traffic in Columbus, Ohio. It was packed because everybody was leaving the city. There was a lot of speculation on what was going on. I remember how calm and peaceful everybody was driving home, about how people were letting people in. It was just everybody sort of trying to work really it seemed like together to try to get back to their families.
It's something I'll never forget. My children were at school. So we were able to get them picked up. They were at home when I got there, so...
Q. DeAnthony Arnett expressed frustration the other day. Can you talk a little bit about the issue that you can potentially have when you have eight guys competing for just a few spots.
COACH DANTONIO: My job is to coach players. Players' jobs are to play. That's about all the discussion I have for it. Their job's to play. When they put themselves in position to play, make plays, they get more reps, more opportunities. That's from A to Z. That's whether you're the starting quarterback, backup quarterback, starting left guard, wide receiver, tailback, whatever. Everybody wants to play. I understand that. My door's always open for those who have a need to talk.
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